The perfect bedtime story: Top authors choose their favourites

Published on: 23 April 2017 Author: Emily Drabble

Searching for the perfect bedtime story? Need some good recommendations?

Look no further, because BookTrust's Head of Children's Book Promotion and Prizes Emily Drabble asked authors and illustrators including Chris Riddell, Julia Donaldson, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Cressida Cowell, Anne Fine and David Almond to recommend their favourites.

Read on for their top books to read at bedtime, including the books they shared with their children and even the books they had read to them when they were little...

Mother and daughter reading

Where The Wild Things AreChris Riddell, Waterstones Children's Laureate 2015-17, author and illustrator of Goth Girl and Ottoline

'My favourite book to read at bedtime to my children was Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. It is the perfect picture book, starting with Max in his wolf onesie setting off across a day, a week, a year, to where the wild things are.

There the wild rumpus begins, brilliant to act out as we read. Max eventually feels homesick and returns to the warmth and love of his home - a wonderful snuggling up moment before saying goodnight.'

A Bit LostNadia Shireen, author and illustrator of The Bumblebear

'I'd nominate A Bit Lost by Chris Haughton - it's a pleasure to read this to my son at bedtime. The story is simple, the illustrations are gorgeous...... and best of all, there's a page where the little owl is reunited with his mum, which provides us with a lovely bedtime cuddle opportunity. 

Piers Torday, author of the Last Wild trilogy and There May Be A Castle

The Book With No Pictures'I love reading at bedtime at all ages.

'My favourite for under 5s is The Book with No Pictures by B J Novak because it is so much fun for everyone, bears repeating and is a chance (of course) for this big child to show off!

'As for under 11s, when I was that age I used to love reading Tintin books with my Dad, because he did all the different voices for the characters.'

 SF Said, author of Varjak Paw and Phoenix

The Little Prince'My mum read me The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry at bedtime every night, until the magical night when I discovered I could read it on my own.

'I still re-read it often, and it gets better every time - a book you can love at any age, and any time!'



















Frank Cottrell Boyce, author of Millions and The Astounding Broccoli Boy

The Jolly Postman'I asked my children what stories they most remembered being read when they were very small. There were a lot of Ahlbergs - Peepo!, Funnybones and The Jolly Postman. I think it's the detail in the Ahlberg books that fascinates.

'But they also remembered retellings of classics such as The Three Billy Goats Gruff and The Donkey and the Rock.

'We forget those stories were new to us once. And we forget the appeal of repetition and familiarity.' 

Jane Hissey, author of the Old Bear books

The Magic Faraway Tree'When my children were little I really enjoyed reading Enid Blyton's Magic Faraway Tree books to them - they were particularly gripped by the gentle and funny adventures.

'The fact that the books fall naturally into chapters and each is a separate adventure makes them work so well as bedtime reading... though we often had to visit several 'lands' before we could put the book down!

'My grandchildren are now enjoying the stories just as much as their parents did.'

Cressida Cowell, author of How to Train Your Dragon and Waterstones Children's Laureate

The Lorax'I have lots of fond memories of reading wonderful picture books with my children. Sharing books from an early age shows that they are important, something worth spending time on. I'm especially fond of Dr Seuss books, such as The Lorax and Mr Brown Can Moo! Can You? 

'They both have a rolling rhythm which propels you through the story, and The Lorax in particular demonstrates that even books for very young children can have a strong message.

'Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot/Nothing is going to get better, it's not'. You have a heart of stone if you're not moved by this book.

'Other favourites to read with my children were Where the Wild Things AreGoodnight Moon, Mick Inkpen books and many more… Did you know that Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon began as a picture book character?'

Nick Sharratt, illustrator of Jacqueline Wilson's books and author and illustrator of The Cat and The King

Yawn'Not having children of my own and with nieces and a nephew growing up fast, it's all too rare that I get the chance to share a bedtime story, so when I do, it really has to be one I've illustrated. Luckily for me, Sally Symes wrote the brilliant Yawn and gave me the chance to have fun with some jolly animal characters.

'A board book with a lovely rhyming text that gently encourages little ones to guess which sleepy creature will show up on next the page.

Yawn is not too long, has an extremely satisfying big round hole running right through the pages, and every time I've read it we've found ourselves joining in the yawning too - which is exactly what you want at bedtime!'

Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo

Fleabag'One of my favourite books to read at bedtime is Fleabag by Helen Stephens. There is drama, pathos and humour in this story of a flea-ridden and ownerless dog's search for friendship.

'Helen's pictures of the dog are enchanting - he is instantly adorable but not in a too Disney-like way. With its themes of friendship and moving house, the book is a delight to read aloud at bedtime.'

Sophy Henn, author of Bedtime with Ted and the Pom Pom books

Milly Molly Mandy'My favourite bedtime choice for many years - both having it read to me and then reading it myself - was Milly Molly Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley, any and all of her many "doings". The possibility and wonder found in Milly Molly Mandy's everyday adventures are quietly inspiring to a seven-year-old on the brink of sleep. There is something so utterly comforting and reassuring about these books that you can't help but be soothed by them before you nod off!

'My daughter's favourite bedtime read for a VERY long time was Little Rabbit Lost by Harry Horse, but it bore the repetition well. We loved the detail-packed illustrations and the emotional rollercoaster of a story that ends in the happiest and cosiest of ways. A perfect story to snuggle down with at the end of the day.'

Anne Fine, author of Madame Doubtfire and the Killer Cat Diaries

Frog and Toad'There's no greater pleasure than reading Arnold Lobel's classic Frog and Toad books to a child at bedtime. They're wry, intelligent and gentle. Frog is patient and modest. Toad is not.

'But together they face the problems any child will recognise: ice creams that melt too fast, an overpowering inability to get out of bed, lost buttons - all the anxieties, misunderstandings and triumphs of small, busy lives. 

And don't let any child miss Lobel's other miniature masterpiece - Owl at Home.'

Elys Dolan, author and illustrator of Weasels

In The Night Kitchen'When I was a child, my favourite book at bedtime was In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. I think this was because of its surreal setting.

'Sendak creates night-time surroundings that are otherworldly but at the same time oddly familiar, with buildings made from kitchenalia and foodstuffs.

'It reminded me of how as a child my own home was transformed by the dark, making familiar places ethereal and peculiar...

Although unlike in the Night Kitchen, there were never any planes made of dough or Oliver Hardy look-a-like chefs, and I never got to wear a suit made of cake. I suppose there's still time, though...'

Philip Ardagh, author of the Eddie Dickens series

Noisy Nora'There are few books with a more hypnotic sleep-inducing rhythm and rhyme than the marvellous Rosemary Wells' stupendous Noisy Nora.

'With her father and mother's attention on baby Jack and big sister Kate, Nora must make plenty of noise to try to attract their attention. And the pictures are as good as the text. This is a bedtime story that bears repeating night after night after night...'

Sarah McIntyre, BookTrust Writer-illustrator In Residence and author and illustrator of The Prince of Pants

Lavender'I nominate Lavender, the bravest rabbit in the world, by Posy Simmonds. Posy's cosy, beautifully drawn colour-pencil animals are just the creatures you want gathered around you before you drift off to sleep. 

'The cultural contrasts between the city and country foxes and their friendships and misunderstandings with the country geese and rabbits are terribly funny. 

'Children will love the little bits of dialogue when they come into conflict, but the story wraps up in a satisfying, reassuring ending just in time for lights out.'

Chris Haughton, author and illustrator of Goodnight Everyone and Shh! We Have a Plan

The Bear's Song'One of my favourite series of books is The Bear's Song by Benjamin Chaud. I had great fun reading these to my twin nieces when they were around 18 months - they weren't quite fully attentive enough for a full story.

'But these books can be read without following the story too closely, instead pointing at all the different animals and spotting the hidden characters on the very detailed, oversized pages.

'It's great fun! They learnt lots of animals and characters from that one book and in the car for weeks afterwards they would point out all the things we saw together in the book.'

Sita Brahmachari, author of Artichoke Hearts

Nobody Rides The Unicorn'My choice is Nobody Rides The Unicorn by Adrian Mitchell. It's a book of true beauty and dreamy mystery about a little girl who may be a "nobody" in the world of kings and queens but who is certainly a somebody to the magical unicorns.

'The poetry, lyricism and dreamscape illustrations transport readers to moonlit lands of the imagination and hold their magic after many readings.

It's a treasure of a story celebrating the power of the imagination to set us free.'

Axel Scheffler, illustrator of The Gruffalo

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate'I always knew the importance of reading and stories for a child's development and their understanding of the world. But experiencing it with my own daughter is altogether another thing.

'I read to her every night extensively -  it's a wonderful shared experience. Sadly, she is a bit lazy about reading on her own, but she loves books and stories, so I haven't given up hope!

'My daughter's choice for bedtime reading would be The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, for over eights, but why stop reading to your children? I also think it's good to have a German recommendation, so I want to recommend Ulrich Hub and Jörg Mühle's Meet Me at the Ark at Eight, published by Pushkin.'

Smriti Halls, author and illustrator of Don't Call Me Sweet! and T-Veg

Once There Were Giants'Choosing my perfect bedtime story has been an impossible task! My children and I have been fighting over this for weeks and defending our choices tooth and nail - which  makes me so happy.

My three boys' shortlist included:

1. Tyson the Terrible by Christyan Fox and Diane Fox - a dinosaur twist in the tail tale

2. Three Little Ghosties by Pippa Goodhart - a delicious slice of spooky

3. Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler - eternally wondrous to read aloud

4. The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde - my favourite story of all time

'HOWEVER, I'm overruling them all and choosing... Once There Were Giants by Martin Waddell and Penny Dale, with the original mother and child cover. I love reading this book at bedtime with my children. They used to get a bit worried that I routinely started sobbing about halfway through, but now they just ignore me.

'The book is a collection of family snapshots which span a generation. My kids enjoy remembering when they stood in a pond or got buried in sand... but really this one is for ME as a parent. It's a gorgeous celebration of those most ordinary and wonderful moments of childhood - both theirs and mine - and of growing up.

'It always makes me feel immeasurably thankful for who and what I have and, though I've read it hundreds of times, I've never yet managed to get to the end dry-eyed.'

Catherine Johnson, author of The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo

Danny Fox Meets A Stranger'The books I loved to read to my children - and that both of them enjoyed - were the Danny Fox books by David Thomson.  They're a sort of reboot of English trickster legends featuring Danny, his hardworking wife and his three always hungry children.

'The books were so much fun to read, David Thomson used loads of folklore and the format of the stories was almost poetic.

Danny being the underdog(fox) meant that my ever story-hungry kids were always rooting for him. Also the line drawings were beautiful.

'There is nothing better than reading to your children - or actually any children! It's a chance to throw yourself into the story and an opportunity to share an adventure. That sounds so sentimental but really, is there a better way to end any day than with a story? And the 60s covers are gorgeous too.'

Emily Gravett, author and illustrator of Wolves and Tidy

Where's My Teddy'I've been staring at my bookshelves racking my brain trying to think of the perfect bedtime story. There are so many brilliant books out there, but I keep coming back to a book that my daughter chose hundreds of times for her bedtime story when she was about two or three.

'I asked my partner which story he'd choose, and he came up with the same book - quite a feat considering my extensive collection!

'When I showed it to my now 19-year-old daughter, her face lit up. So my recommendation for the perfect bedtime book is... Jez Alborough's Where's My Teddy. It has everything - a little bit of fear, a funny rhyme, and a cuddly snuggly sleepy ending.'

Jackie Morris, author and illustrator of The Seal Children

The Mousehole Cat'When my children were small we would always go to bed with books. We were lucky to have so many. Nicola Bayley was a favourite with The Mousehole Cat -the detail in the pictures, the rhythm of the text. And The Patchwork Cat, too, illustrated by Bayley and written by Richard Adams. Often a cat would be curled on the bed listening as well! But we would read in the morning too, and in the middle of the day, quiet moments of stories.

'I remember climbing into bed with my daughter who was fretful from bad dreams and in the dark she would say, "Read me the Wild Things", and I would begin, "The night Max wore his wolf suit..." All the words were there in my mind because we'd read it so many times, and the pictures would dance in the dark of her sleeping mind.

'Books built moments of peaceful intimacy during our days and our nights. And they still do! My children are 21 and 23 now... and still reading.'

David Almond, author of Skellig and A Song for Ella Grey

Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse'My bedtime book recommendation is Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes, one of my daughter Freya's favourites when she was a bairn.

'It's funny, touching, charming and true.'



Viviane Schwarz, author and illustrator of Is There A Dog In This Book? and How to Find Gold

The Penguin Book of Kites'My choice is a strange one: The Penguin Book of Kites. As a child, the books I loved most were the ones that had instructions on how to make things. I would carry them around and look at them before I went to sleep, and fill my head with plans.

'It didn't matter if I was too young to actually follow the instructions, I just wanted to think about them and plan. I love kites, and this one is perfect.'

We hope you enjoy reading some of these wonderful recommendations - please share your own favourite books to read at bedtime @BookTrust.

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